Hammy-watch: A call on Clarke needed sooner rather than later

Brett McKay Columnist

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    Michael Clarke and Darren Lehmann in happier times. (AFP PHOTO / GLYN KIRK)

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    As the one-day train rolls into the Nation’s Capital today, and with new players coming into the Australian squad for the last three games of the series against South Africa, our off-field attention is being taken up by one of the biggest quandaries in Australian cricket.

    And no, I’m not talking about the Glenn Maxwell quandary. Though I did anticipate my first cricket column of the summer would be about the annoyingly mercurial Victorian, I am actually talking about something much more important than a flaky all-rounder.

    I am, of course, talking about the new sport gripping Australia: Michael Clarke’s hamstring-watch.

    The skipper’s hamstring has become a national concern, and with it has come a flood of opinion and armchair doctorage as every cricket fan around the country has their say.

    Though I make light of the reaction to the news, there’s not a lot of argument that this particular hamstring is attached to one of the most important cricketers in Australia, nor that this is one of the more important years ahead for Australian cricket.

    Straight off the bat, the issue now becomes not when Clarke might return, but whether the Australian selectors and physios should actually be a bit strategic about Clarke’s rehab.

    Though beating India in a four-Test series at home is important, is it as important to Clarke or the team that he gets back in time for the first Test starting in Brisbane a fortnight tomorrow?

    With a World Cup on home soil starting in February, and an Ashes Tour further down the track, is Clarke best put on ice, pun intended, for these upcoming Tests with a view to bigger events next year?

    Evidently, not even the Cricket Australia hierarchy is completely sure.

    High Performance Manager Pat Howard was moved earlier in the week to anoint Brad Haddin as the man to deputise for Clarke during the Test series, a move that was as curious for the point that someone would be publicly mentioned as it is for the health of the deputy named.

    But then both coach Darren Lehmann and national selector Rod Marsh have in the past few days spoken of Clarke possibly being ready to go for Brisbane. One-day stand-in George Bailey has offered his massaging services, proving he’s equal parts committed to the cause and a little creepy.

    Whatever Clarke’s level of fitness, working back from Thursday, December 4 – the first day of the Brisbane Test – a call is going to have to be made on Clarke sooner rather than later.

    The Test squad will commence preparations in Brisbane on Sunday, November 30, and will travel on either Friday or Saturday, November 28 or 29; this much I’ve had confirmed.

    The squad would have to be announced no later than this time next week, but even when getting some dates confirmed, Cricket Australia weren’t sure when the announcement had been set down for. By my thinking, it would have to be sometime between Sunday’s fifth and final ODI, and next Wednesday at the latest.

    The next round of Sheffield Shield games commences in Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane next Tuesday, with Lehmann saying in Canberra yesterday, “Most will play. They should be playing for their states, too.”

    And so here’s where it gets interesting with ‘hammy-watch’.

    If Clarke remains in doubt for the first Test, we could have a situation where he’s named next week, and maybe even joins the squad in Brisbane to commence preparations. Even if he’s 80 per cent by the time the squad assembles, presumably the selectors would want to give him time to prove his fitness.

    But just where is he up to and how much time will he be given?

    Clarke himself told Channel Nine last night that he’s still not sure of the extent of the injury, and that it “might take a day, it might take a week” before his own specialists and Cricket Australia medicos are able to make a full diagnosis.

    And that seems to be where Lehmann is letting the cards fall at the moment, too, telling me yesterday that there was no timeframe on making a decision on whether Clarke plays, and that “we’ll just see what the medicos say.”

    So the question then becomes one of do the selectors name Clarke next week, even without fully knowing how bad the injury is, or do they – and should they – make a call before they even name the squad?

    It seems to me the timings alone mean that the only way to ensure the preparations for Brisbane don’t become a full-blown, televised-with-live-updates version of hammy-watch is to err on the side of caution, and make the call now. Let the new captain prepare for the Test without having to worry about whether he will or won’t have to toss the coin on Day 1 at the Gabba.

    Take the extra time – even if it means Clarke sits out the Adelaide Test straight after, too – and ensure the skipper’s hammy will last the World Cup and see him onto the England Tour.

    And after that, the discussion about Clarke’s future in the coloured gear can be had as well.

    Brett McKay
    Brett McKay

    Brett McKay is one of The Roar's good news stories and has been a rugby and cricket expert for the site since July 2009. Brett is an international and Super Rugby commentator for ABC Grandstand radio, has commentated on the Australian Under-20s Championships and National Rugby Championship live stream coverage, and has written for magazines and websites in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and the UK. He tweets from @BMcSport.

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